European Commission Commits to Phasing Out Caged Farming

The European (EU) Commission recently committed to banning caged farming in Europe. The proposal will cover animals including various chicken species, calves, and rabbits and will go into full effect by 2027.

By the end of 2023, the EU Commission promises to deliver a legislative proposal to phase out caged farming before banning the practice altogether in 2027. Several EU Member States have already implemented full or partial bans on caged farming for egg-laying hens in Francefor sows in Sweden, and rabbits in Austria.

“Cages do not allow animals to carry out basic behaviors, severely restrict their movement, and lead to immense suffering, both physical and mental,” Olga Kikou, European Affairs Manager at Compassion in World Farming, tells Food Tank. Kikou argues that the intensification of animal farming is contributing to a slew of environmental, public health, and animal welfare issues.

The new proposal will aim to expand these bans across all EU Member States. To determine the timeline for implementing bans, the Commission will consider animal welfare, social and economic needs of the European farming sector, international trade, and environmental concerns.

The decision by the EU Commission comes as a response to an EU-wide initiative by Compassion in World Farming called “End the Cage Age.” The initiative amassed over 1.4 million signatures and was put forth as a European Citizen’s Initiative, a measure allowing citizens to propose new laws to the EU Commission if there is enough public support.

Caged farming is widely used in industrial livestock production across the world, where large populations of animals meant for consumption are confined to cages, or other small spaces. According to the American Public Health Association, this kind of farming has led to a reduction in the cost of meat for consumers, but also raises many concerns about animal welfare, human health, and environmental impacts.

Industrial livestock production contributes to 57 percent of greenhouse gases, is a major driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss, and contributes significantly to land, water, and air pollution. These farming practices also present a significant threat to public health because disease can easily spread in crowded cages.

The proposal to develop legislation to ban caged farming is a critical step towards improving sustainability in the global food system, Kikou says. She hopes that the new legislation will catalyze significant reforms in production practices, explaining “We need to keep far fewer animals in better conditions.”

The EU Commission’s official response recognizes that the transition to cage-free farming will pose a challenge to many European farmers. To address these concerns, they propose to develop several supporting measures in parallel to the legislation to ease the transition. These measures include guidelines and recommendations, as well as financial incentives, new eco-schemes, and funding.

In addition to these measures, the EU Commission aims to support information campaigns and training for caged-free farming, work with food processors and retailers to support the development of a cage-free market, and introduce an animal welfare labeling scheme to improve consumer’s access to information.

However, organizations including COPA-COGECA, who represent European farmers, have voiced several concerns. “The EU Commission will have to demonstrate how we will avoid double standards in our imports,” says Pekka Pesonen, Secretary General of COPA-COGECA. He explains that the Commission’s response remains vague regarding its plans to adopt the ban on external trade and lacks measures on how to protect small farmers and keep food prices stable.

“Abandoning cages is the first step towards more sustainable and humane farming,” Kikou tells Food Tank. “With the introduction of new laws, we hope to see a gradual shift towards farming that is in line with the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy.”

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